Monthly Archives: October 2006

Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive

When all the overwork of life
     Is finished once, and fallen asleep
We shrink no more beneath the knife,
     But having sown prepare to reap;
Delivered from the crossway rough,
     Delivered from the thorny scourge,
     Delivered from the tossing surge,
Then shall we find—(please God!)
          —it is enough?

Not in this world of hope deferred,
     This world of perishable stuff;
Eye hath not seen, nor ear hath heard,
     Nor heart conceived that full ‘enough’;
Here moans the separating sea,
     Here harvests fail, here breaks the heart;
     There God shall join and no man part,
All one in Christ, so one—(please God!)—with me.

Christina Georgina Rossetti
27 August 1857

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Very Enjoyable Heroes

So, because of a brief mention by Chris Heard at Higgaion of the new television show Heroes, I by chance saw that it was coming on last night, so I watched the first episode, by the end of which I was hooked. NBC actually showed a “marathon” of the first three episodes, I suppose for the benefit of people like me who’d thought upon first hearing of it that it was just some

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Disobedience and Exile

One of the supposed indicators in the Hebrew Bible for a Deuteronomistic passage is that of a threat of exile as punishment for disobeying the will of God, seeing this as specifically relating to the Babylonian exile of Judahites after 586 B.C. But such a consideration of exile as punishment is not something that need necessarily only have appeared in so late a period among the Judahites as King Josiah’s time or later. In fact, for more than a thousand of years before, exile, as part and the process of a city’s falling to an enemy, had been viewed among Israel’s neighbors as a result of punishment for having displeased the divine, as we’ll see in some examples below. Yet, even within the Hebrew Bible itself, cutting across the boundaries of centuries and/or hypothetical source-critical strands, are earlier descriptions of exile as a result of displeasing God (Adam and Eve, Cain, the people of Babel), usually, one way or another attributed to Deuteronomistic influence. However, the wider motif of threat/promise of the divine in response to dis/obedience on the part of the worshipper(s) is, in fact, an integral part of prophecy itself, even outside of Israel, as we’ll also see below, and can even be said to be at the heart of any religious system utilizing divination of any kind (either inductive, like haruspicy and astrology, or non-inductive, like dreams and ecstatic utterance) to determine the divine will. In this regard, the similarity of the Israelite prophetic approach to that of other foreign prophets, some much earlier, is important to the Prophetic Perspective I mentioned in an earlier post, proposing particularly the Israelite prophetic guild and its supporters as the origin for the Old Testament writings as a whole. This essentially eliminates the need for attributing such passages reflecting threats of disasters (inter alia, exile) for disobedience or promises of blessings for obedience to either Deuteronomistic influence or directly to the Deuteronomist.

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I’m sure some may have noticed the absolutely perfect Pirate Wench cover illustration over there under my Currently Reading heading. Alas, I am not reading Pirate Wench, undoubtedly a scintillating tale of swashbuckling with a touch of the gamine. The image links to the book I’m actually reading: editor William H. Hallo’s Scripture in Context III: The Bible in the Light of Cuneiform Literature.

I’ve used the Pirate Wench cover because my copy of Scripture in Context III is an old review copy and thus just has a white softback cover, and I couldn’t find an image of the cover online, nor is there a copy locally available for a scan. And, of course, the cover is hysterically funny. Is she a giantess about to grab the head of the man with the strange ribcage? Is it maybe because he’s about as smart as mud, judging by that look on his face and by him wearing his belt over his shoulder and a scarf around his waist? Maybe he’s so dumb because of all the concussions he’s gotten from Giantess Pirate Wench? Why is the little pirate to the left seeming to flee her sash? Is it maybe the color combination that horrifies him, as it does any sane and civilized person? Why does her sword look like a giant toothpick? If this is a “complete and unabridged” edition, does that mean that there was an “incomplete and abridged” edition? And lastly, what self-respecting lady pirate captain would have allowed herself to be called a wench? I think this maybe isn’t the historical novel and accurate period illustration we might have first thought….

So there we are! Instead of an image of a boring white cover stamped with “Review Copy,” you are herewith presented with a larger size version of Pirate Wench! Arrrrrrr!

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Absence and Presence

…of Mystery, that is.

Not precisely a mid-life crisis, but perhaps a crisis of blog direction. The academic is more and more unsatisfying, while the faithful is increasingly more satisfying. This is due to simple quality, and an avoidance of stodgy, fusty studiousness, the academic failure of conscience represented in its obsessive qualification of every point, and just the disgust at the direction academic Biblical studies have gone/arrived at.

Part of the problem with the “scientific” approach to Life, the Bible, and everything is that it leaves no room for Mystery. Now I don’t mean “mystery” in the Agatha Christie sense, or even in the Godforsaken “Da Vinci Code” sense, as in a whodunnit. That’s quite obvious. Nor is it a reference to any general mystery, as in a tough problem that needs solving though this is closer. “Mystery” in the Christian sense are those items of our Faith which have been revealed to us, without explanation, as either beliefs to hold or practices to do. We do not, in this life, receive the answer. Indeed, maybe the answer is simply, “Because that’s the way it is.” Certainly, though, because this is the Way.

Avoiding the mysteries, or seeking to explain them, both of these approaches have dire consequences. We have the mystery of Man and Woman as Humanity, and Marriage as the only proper environment for their joining in sex and the production of children. Those nations which have altered this institution are, frankly, failing. Their populations are now in serious decline. Those nations which still hold to a strongly traditional approach to Marriage, even if they are not Christian, have population growth. Seeking to explain why this is so runs into so many walls that we’d rather avoid, walls which call into question everything dear to our modern, civilized selves, walls of privacy, freedom, intervention, trust, love, sex, life, death, and many others. Mystery stands against them all, a vast, unshakable reality, saying, “This is real, and works. That is not real, and doesn’t work.”

In Biblical Studies, it’s atrocious what’s happened. All Mystery, even mystery as in oddities requiring explanation, have been removed. Oddities are given an unlikely explanation which is accepted because scholars find it impossible to admit ignorance. After all, are we not all led to believe that they are most prized for its opposite? But stripping Mystery from the foundational text of our cultures is wrong, as well. There’s something unusual in that Book of Books, something far more compelling than just a classic of literature. There’s Mystery. Avoiding mention of that 800 pound gorilla is a scholarly art form. And despicable.

[From my scribere jottings, as is, which particular one I liked, so here you go! It dates from mid-May, which accounts for the mention of the entirely passé mention of yon Da Bacle.]

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A Prophetic Perspective

For some time now, I’ve been approaching the Hebrew Bible in a particular way as a kind of experimental framework. I thought it might be interesting to share a short description of this framework, and elicit comments. This is by no means a complete description, but more of a series of notes.

Essentially, I see the entirety of the Old Testament as an expression and work of the ancient Israelite prophets and their supporters, a group that can reasonably be understood as the true Yahwists, in contrast to the more syncretistic wider population and official institutions, particularly the monarchies and priesthoods. Their evaluation of historical figures and events are presented in the texts of the Old Testament as we have them, not those of the priests or the monarchy. It is when those latter were in conflict with the prophets that the evaluations for these instutions are negative, particularly in the historical books.

In such a situation, I would prefer to speak of a Prophetic History, rather than what most describe as the Deuteronomistic History. In this is a return of the emphasis back to the wider, more general category of the prophets. After all, it is entirely and only their evaluations and their first-person voices that we are priveleged to read in the Old Testament, which I don’t think anyone disagrees with, except perhaps among the Psalms, and then Proverbs, which are a different kettle of fish altogether. What we have in the Hebrew Bible, then, is a group of writings of an ancient pre-exilic religious minority, which, in the post-exilic period, are at long last taken as foundational by the priestly and secular leadership of Yehud.

A few items of support: How is creation accomplished in Genesis 1? Through speech, the medium of the prophet, not through ritual, the medium of the priest. Of Aaron and Moses, who gets the better press? Moses the faithful prophet rather than Aaron the syncretistic priest. What institution is consistently exclusively Yahwistic throughout the periods for which there is reliable evidence? Only the prophets. What is the framework given for all the legal texts? Prophetic delivery to Moses, and Moses to the people. Who decided which kings were good and which bad, and according to what criteria? The criteria were those of the prophets moreso than those of the priests.

Keeping this prophetc perspective in mind while reading the Hebrew Bible texts is often more enlightening than various other approaches. Give it a try, O reader, and let me know what you think.

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What Have They Done to the Bible?

John Sandys-Wunsch put thirty years of work into his What Have They Done to the Bible?—A History of Modern Biblical Interpretation (Liturgical Press, 2005). Covering the development of modern Biblical studies from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century, he’s provided overviews of the approaches to the Bible of various persons throughout those centuries, some longer, some shorter, but all very helpful. The book is not at all polemical, as might be read into the title question, but rather is a fine, succinct history of scholarship. One is able, with this book, to view the development of professional scholarship itself, and to be reminded of the once central role of Biblical studies in both the academy and society. Sandys-Wunsch also displays a fine sense of humor on occasion. His familiarity with the pre-nineteenth century scholarship is particularly valuable, as these formative ages are typically ignored in other survey coverage in favor of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries scholars whose works are considered more directly foundational. Indeed, Sandys-Wunsch states candidly, “To save reviewers trouble, let it be admitted outright that the author is not as familiar with the work of nineteenth-century scholars as with that of earlier authors. There are many more studies of biblical interpretation in this period than in the earlier ones” (p. 283, n. 3). This book should be required reading for every introductory course on Biblical scholarship. It’s thoroughly annotated, with a bibliography separated by chapter/period, and several useful indices (Subjects, Pre-1900 Names, Post-1900 Names, Scripture). The style is straightforward, eminently readable, and while avoiding technical jargon, still manages also to skillfully avoid misrepresentation or oversimplification of complex subjects. Consider it highly recommended.

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